The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a number of programs to assist veterans. But the VA can be an untapped resource for many senior citizens. There is a lack of good, accessible information about the programs and a maze of federal regulations that govern eligibility.
There are two branches of the VA to serve senior citizens (age 65 or older) who have health care needs. The Veteran’s Health Administration primarily provides health care for prior service members. These programs include VA hospitals, VA nursing homes, prescription medication benefits, and other health care services. Waiting lists are common. However, there is a ranking system to provide these benefits to veterans who have greater levels of disability first. This is called a priority group. The priority is based upon the veteran’s military service, medical disability, and financial need. To receive some health related services, income verification may be required along with a co-pay.
The second branch of the VA serving seniors is the Veteran’s Benefits Administration and this branch provides financial assistance with health care costs for eligible veterans. For veterans with a non-service connected disability, there are three types of financial benefits under the Improved Pension program, including: Low Income Pension, Housebound Benefits, and Aid and Attendance Benefits. These Improved Pension benefits are designed to help offset the cost of necessary health care. These benefits are available to veterans and widow(er)s of veterans who meet the following requirements:
- The veteran must have served at least 90 days of consecutive active duty service, one day of which must have been during a war-time period.
- The veteran must have received a discharge that was other than dishonorable.
- The claimant must have limited income and assets available.
- The claimant must have a permanent and total disability or be over age 65 at the time of the application.
- The disability was caused without wilful misconduct of the claimant.
- And, the veteran or widow signs an application and provides the application to the VA.
Housebound Benefits may provide additional financial benefits where the senior is essentially confined to the home.
Aid & Attendance Benefits are available for seniors who are blind or in a nursing home. Aid & Attendance is also available to seniors who live at home but cannot dress/undress, maintain hygiene, attend to other bodily functions, or who have a physical or mental incapacity that puts him or her at risk of harm.
In 2009, the Low Income Pension, Housebound Benefits, and Aid & Attendance may provide from $7,933 per year up to $23,396 per year in tax free income, depending on the claimant’s other assets, health care costs, and a number of other factors.
There is more good news for veterans or widow(er)s of veterans over age 65 who want more information about these benefits. The VA now requires attorneys to have VA accreditation in order to advise clients on how to get VA benefits. Only attorneys who are VA-accredited can assist senior citizens with preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for veterans benefits. To find a VA-accredited attorney, you may search the VA’s Office of General Counsel website.
Attorney Amelia Crotwell is officially accredited by the VA and permitted to provide advice and planning about VA benefits. Ms. Crotwell is also a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.